The Diamond Circle is a famed 260 kilometre (162 mile) sightseeing route in the northeast of Iceland, characterised by its sheer number of natural attractions, picturesque settlements and fantastic landscapes.
The Diamond Circle is available for those who wish to drive the route themselves, as well as those who would prefer to partake in a guided tour of the region.
It is considered the northeastern alternative to the popular Golden Circle sightseeing route, which is reached by travelling for forty minutes from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, and comprised of the three major sites Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Valley and Gullfoss Waterfall.
The route’s four main attractions are Lake Mývatn, Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss, the horseshoe-shaped canyon, Ásbyrgi and the fishing town of Húsavík, known primarily for its fantastic whale watching opportunities.
Lake Mývatn is one of the most popular sites of the north; it is a favourite location for birdwatchers in particular, who can see dozens of species year round.
The lake area is also known for its flora, being home to rare moss balls and many wildflowers, and its geology. This takes the form of basalt pillars rising from the waters, pseudocraters surrounding them, and the lava fortress of Dimmuborgir.
Dimmuborgir is a dramatic and beautiful location, used as a setting for the Game of Thrones franchise. In folklore, it is said to be home to the thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, found in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river in the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, which is part of the great Vatnajökull National Park. It is 40 metres (131 feet) tall and over 100 metres (328 feet) wide.
Dettifoss is one of three waterfalls in the river; Selfoss is just a little upstream, while Hafragilsfoss is downriver.
The horseshoe shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi is so perfectly formed that one could be forgiven for thinking it has divine origins. This is, in fact, what old Icelanders used to believe; according to legend, it was created when one of the hoofs of the eight-legged horse of the god Oðin made contact with the earth.
The land within the canyon is well-forested, due to the shelter that the sheer cliffs provide.
Húsavík is often nicknamed ‘the whale-watching capital of Europe’, due to the wealth of life in its waters. Most tour operators boast 100 percent sighting rates on their tours throughout summer, with the most common species being humpback whales and white-beaked dolphins.
Over twenty species of cetacean, however, are found in Iceland’s waters, and there is a chance of seeing any of them, depending on the time of year, from the town. Blue whales, for example, have been seen in summer, and some rather lost Narwhals and Belugas have been seen in winter.
Other sites on the Diamond Circle include the likes of Goðafoss Waterfall, Æðafossar (“Eider Falls”), Hljóðaklettar (“Echo rocks” or “The Whispering Cliffs”) and Laugar swimming pool.
Do note, however, that not all tour operators travel to each of these attractions. If you are looking to visit each location individually, with nothing missed, it is recommended to drive the sightseeing route yourself.